Review Blog

Nov 16 2011

The Women of the Cousins' War. The Duchess, the Queen, and the King's Mother by Philippa Gregory

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Simon and Schuster, 2011, ISBN 9780857201775.
(Age: Senior students) Recommended. This work is a non-fiction companion volume to Philippa Gregory's fictional Cousins' War series set between 1415 to 1509 and during the Wars of the Roses in England. The three women who feature in that series, Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort, all became influential, respected and feared despite women having few legal, political and dynastic rights at that time. Jacquetta was the matriarch of the powerful Woodville family and friend of Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry IV. Elizabeth Woodville was her daughter and wife of Henry's successor, Edward IV. Margaret Beaufort was a descendent of Edward III and the mother of Henry VII, the first Tudor king. This book is in part a discussion about the difference between fiction and history; the author, Philippa Gregory discusses each, and ultimately claims that there are more similarities between them than are usually accepted. Historians, she claims, work from established facts to speculate about character, motive and reactions just as the best writers of historical fiction do. The three essays that follow, by Gregory and two professional historians, David Baldwin and Michael Jones, are examinations of the historical evidence about the three women. The essay by Michael Jones on Margaret Beaufort is particularly interesting in its use of primary sources to reach conclusions about Margaret's life and character. Some of the claims made in relation to each of the three women could be debatable, but the book is very readable. It contains a map of battles, a dynastic chart of the York and Lancaster families (fortunately), illustrations and an extensive bibliography.
Jenny Hamilton

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